Saturday, 29 March 2014

'mná' or 'fir'...which would you choose?

Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland

Even though Irish is not widely spoken throughout the Republic of Ireland, it is the National language and is used on all official documents side by side with English and on road sign posts etc. as well as having a TV channel in the language….with English subtitles.  My older sister and brother both studied in Irish, but by the time I came along this was no longer the case Alhamdulilah!  It is taught from the very beginning of primary school and there was a time when, if you passed all subjects but failed Irish, you failed your exams.  This too is no longer the case, but there is still a big emphasis on the language, and there are quite a few Irish speaking areas throughout the Island, The Gaeltacht, where only Irish is spoken in everyday life.  I never could get the hang of it myself, and I think this was because I never heard it spoken fluently at home, and, by the time I reached Secondary school I was expected to have mastered it quite well…. and I hadn’t.  I remember cycling to a nearby town and my heart would sink whenever I met the local head teacher who loved the language so much that he liked to converse in it as much as possible.  If I was with my best friend whose Irish was very good as she spent  3 weeks every summer in a Gaeltacht area in order to improve her language skills, then I could quite happily let them yap on… little realising that in years to come I would do the same thing in another language in my in-laws home!  However something must have sunk in because some of the guttural sounds in the Arabic language are very similar to Irish and I have no problems with them.

I have enough basic vocabulary to get by so when I was faced with the signs on the toilets in Baltimore in Ireland, during one summer holiday back home, I didn’t have a problem choosing which one to use. The same cannot be said for my husband.

If you needed to go to the toilet....which one would you choose?

I remember thinking, as we went in that I must tell my husband which one to use, and, of course, the thought left my head as fast as it entered it.  It wasn’t until I saw my husband’s face later on his way back from the toilets that I remembered.  ‘Oh God!  Don’t tell me you went into the women’s toilet!!!’ I said to him.  ‘You know’, he said, ‘In most normal countries in the world ‘M’ is for ‘Male’ and ‘F’ is for ‘Female’, but oh no not in Ireland!  In Ireland it’s the total opposite of normal!’  As we all had a good laugh at the ‘poor foreigner’ (of which we have two others in the family before anyone gets up in arms at our warped sense of humour!), my Mum thought it was highly amusing and kidded with him saying ‘and you’re supposed to be a good Muslim, going into a women’s toilet, you should be ashamed of yourself!’ We decided that the Irish with their notoriety for bearing grudges for a very long time, had got some kind of revenge on ‘The Algerian’ for kidnapping their people 400 hundred years earlier.   Later I asked him how did he know he had gone into the wrong one.  ‘I soon found out when I was coming out of the toilet and saw a man coming out of the one named ‘Fir’! 
Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland






4 comments:

  1. oh my gosh Evelyn, I used to hate irish in school, absolutely hate it!! I went to a Gaeltacht one summer but not to learn irish(of course not) but for the craic!! we were caught speakin english once and got into trouble lol!!

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  2. Oh that's so funny, Um Hamza! We had to read Peig Sayers and I found her SO boring. I think a lot of adults get into Irish when they become interested in the Irish culture.

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  3. That is soooo funny! I would hate it if it happened to me! Mind you my first visit to Algeria involved an incident regarding toilets which was enlightening lol

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  4. Peig Sayers,Peig Sayers....what can I say, that poor woman was the bane of our irish class lol!! But as you get older and wiser, you start to appreciate some of the things you hated before!!

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